The report provides the analysis on different aspects of work and employment in cooperatives and social enterprises based on the empirical research in 20 organisations (15 cooperatives and 5 non-cooperative social enterprises) and interviews with main stakeholders in five European countries (Italy, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Poland). Whereas its findings are not so new compared to existing literature including CECOP report on “The resilience of the cooperative model” (2012) and CICOPA Employment reports (2014 and 2017), it provides new evidence as to why and how that resilience occurs, demonstrating that cooperatives and social enterprises deserve to be promoted. Indeed, the added value of this report is that it illustrates the dynamics inside cooperatives perceived by members and workers. This method allows to confirm that cooperatives resilience is not due to chance but a result of dynamics generated by institutional environments, specificities of the cooperative model as well as efforts and capacity of members and workers for innovation and better management.
The report affirms that “cooperatives demonstrated not only resilience but also the ability to flourish since the economic crisis” and “there has been a clear overall preference for creating and retaining full-time, permanent jobs, the ‘standard employment’ model which often used as an indicator of good-quality jobs”. It reports also that “workers in the case study organisations rated job quality highly, both in absolute terms and in comparison to similar organisations. They also gave high ratings to the social environment, voice and representation in the workplace, work-life balance and task discretion. (…) Skills development and job security were strong and there was significant intent to provide workers with career opportunities within organisations. (…) Many of the dimensions of job quality were integral to organizational objectives and, thus, were prioritized in workplace practices”.
Based on the case studies, the report tends to explain why cooperatives could perform well. According to the report, it is due to internal factors such as good management, governance and internal decision-making structures and processes, reinvesting (or at least not extracting) surplus value, prioritizing jobs over wages and profit, the ability to share risks and rewards, a long-term focus and shared values among members, workers and, in many cases, customers and clients. These factors are indeed inherent specificities of the cooperative model. The report also explains that there appears to be a sort of ‘virtuous circle’ within cooperatives and social enterprises by which internal human resource practices generate positive organizational performance that, in turn, provides positive employment outcomes, thus reinforcing the practices.
Based on these findings, the report recommends that “cooperatives and social enterprises should be promoted at the EU, national and regional levels as vehicles for socioeconomic development” and that “they can receive support to maximise positive employment outcomes” in suggesting following policy pointers: general policy support; target sector-specific support measures; raise the profile of the sector among business development organisations; promote access to more formal business support; promote social value clauses in public tendering; promote the sector as an alternative to public sector service provision; mainstream the sector in enterprise and business education; support the development of management skills within the sector; clarify the existing and emerging types of cooperative and social enterprise; and improve statistical data on cooperatives and social enterprises.
The report gives attention to the role of cooperatives in answering the negative employment trends since the crisis, particularly in respect to the growth of non-standard employment. This issue which is not sufficiently addressed in this report but is the main theme of a research CECOP is working on currently (publication expected end of 2019). We hope CECOP’s work will develop further the contribution of cooperatives in this regard.
However, the report has some limits.
Most of all, the combination of cooperatives and social enterprises in target organizational types makes conceptual confusions. Whereas the cooperative is clearly defined and internationally agreed model, social enterprises have different realities in different countries, which are often overlapped with cooperatives. For example, it is well known that, in Italy, the most exemplary social enterprises are social cooperatives which inspire the concept of social enterprise itself at the European level. The report sometimes confuses social enterprise with social economy as well. It is also regrettable that the report could not sufficiently reflect the “Guidelines concerning statistics of cooperatives” adopted by the 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, in 2018, we suppose, probably due to the timing. In terms of methodology, despite of its well elaborated research method, if more qualitative approaches had been used beyond pre-determined categories, it might have gotten more unexpected findings from vivid voices of members and workers, as the first CICOPA Employment report made.